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Published on: March 28, 2012
by Jessica Oswald for The Times News:
Chocolate has been getting a lot of buzz recently, and it’s good news for chocolate lovers.
In the past few years, dark chocolate has been linked to numerous health benefits, and now there’s scientific evidence linking heart health and cocoa.
The cocoa bean contains compounds that are called flavanols. Flavanols have been shown to lower blood pressure, improve circulation, increase HDL (the “good” cholesterol), and reduce your overall risk for heart disease.
In the past several months, scientists have come to the conclusion that flavanols work. They believe that part of the reason that flavanols work is because they stimulate the production of nitric oxide, which works to relax your blood vessels.
But there is a catch: It is not known yet how much cocoa is needed for these positive benefits. You’ve also got to remember that it’s the cocoa that contains the benefits, and while cocoa is a component of chocolate, not all chocolates are made equally.
Typically, chocolate is listed with a cocoa percentage on the label. Milk chocolate can contain as little as 10 percent cocoa while dark chocolate bars are typically 50 to 60 percent cocoa. The more cocoa in the chocolate, the higher the flavanol content, and the higher the heart healthy benefit.
There are some other health benefits related to cocoa:
• Brain function. Cocoa improves circulation, and this includes blood flow to the brain. In 2009, a study asked participants to count backward in groups of three. After drinking flavanol-rich hot cocoa, the participants were able to do the calculations more quickly and accurately. They also felt less mentally drained after drinking the hot cocoa.
• Mood improvement. Chocolate contains a compound called phenathylamine, and this compound triggers the release of endorphins. The release of endorphins from chocolate is similar to what people experience when they fall in love. Scientists have also hypothesized that many of the compounds in chocolate positively influence the feel-good chemicals in the brain.
• Longer life. One study found that people who eat something sweet on occasion (one to three times per month) have lower mortality rates; it was hypothesized that this might be due to the antioxidants in chocolate. Another study found that eating chocolate increases the survival rate after a heart attack.
Even with all of the health benefits associated with chocolate, you still need to moderate your chocolate consumption. Many chocolate products have a high-calorie, high-fat content.
For your chocolate craving fix, stick to dark chocolate with a high cocoa percentage and limit yourself to about 3 ounces per day. Remember, this 3-ounces does contain calories, so you may want to cut back in other areas.
Here’s a recipe to try:
Dark Chocolate Mousse
4 squares dark chocolate baking chocolate
3 cups whipped topping
½ cup fresh raspberries, washed
In a microwaveable bowl, microwave chocolate in 30 second increments until melted, stirring in between.
Add 1 cup whipped topping and stir until well blended. Stir in remaining 2 cups whipped topping.
Divide evenly among dessert dishes and top with raspberries.
Makes 6 ½-cup servings.
• Nutrition facts per serving: 220 calories, 15 grams fat, 20 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 2 grams protein.
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